The 2015 AAS 44-Hour Equinox Traverse
(aka: How to Lose Awesomely)
(aka: Return of the Devil Plant)
Superfly Team Members: Eric Caravella, John Courain, Aaron Courain, Whitney Hedberg
Race Report By: Eric Caravella
Have you ever heard the phrase “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”? Sure you have. Well that’s going to be the theme of this week’s episode. Because we didn’t win the Equinox Traverse. But we still want you to be impressed with us, because we lost awesomely.
Doug Crytzer is a guy who loves Ohiopyle State Park. And with good reason, as it’s a beautiful piece of America. If you remember, I raced the Lionheart in Ohiopyle last year, check out the race report for that one here: https://teamnyara.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/race-report-lion-heart/. I’m beginning to suspect there is something sinister about Ohiopyle, as screwy things always seem to happen when I race here. Maybe Mikal wasn’t far off when he described the undergrowth as the “Devil Plants”….
Anyway, adventure racing voodoo nonsense aside.. John, Aaron and I were lucky enough to have Whitney fly out from Colorado to race this one with us. She’s the best, isn’t she? When she’s not forcing you to run when you’re already misearable, that is. We all camped out Friday night and were ready to get the maps and clue sheets early Saturday morning. John and Aaron have raced this area quite a bit in their day, so John took lead nav with me as secondary. Aaron was part of John’s brain as usual, and Whitney bossed us all around all weekend. It was fantastic.
At 7am on Saturday, we received the first set of maps of the race, which would amount to roughly the first 24 hours. Due to the fact that we did not have much info leading up to this race, it was a mad scramble trying to prepare maps and gear and food, etc, between 7am and the 9am race start. As a result of this, and of the fact that we were essentially planning to share nav duty, no one person was 100% clear on the info in the clue sheet or the rules of the road. This proved devastating for us later on… (great foreshadowing, right?)
The first bike leg was uneventful. We rode to the start of a Foot-O section, which was a lollypop with a 5 mile rail trail stem. That means we ran 5 miles, did our foot loop, and then ran the same 5 miles back to the TA. It was rough. Repeating ground is mentally taxing, but this was only a small taste of the backtracking we’d all be doing. The Foot-O went ok, especially considering how many trails weren’t on the map. Shout out to Whitney who took my pack for a little bit as my body was not cooperating with the beating I was administering it. Go figure. Anyway, she was happy to pay back the times I’ve helped her, and we had a serious kumbaya moment as we contemplated the glory and satisfaction of effective teamwork. Now, back to the suffering. We ended up coming in a bit closer to the cutoff than we thought we would, but we were still on track.
Next section was a big Bike-O, and it was my turn to nav. It was a long way to the first CP, so we settled in for a little spin. Lots of roads on this section, so nav was easy. However, some obvious route choices led us directly onto private property that was unlabeled on the map, unbeknownst to us (but entirely knownst to the homeowners, who had evidently seen other oddly equipped, spandexy groups of bikers earlier in the afternoon). They were very nice, if still a bit perplexed, and offered to show us the way to the next trail.
The bike is where I live, so this section was great for me. But John and Aaron were not having such luck. They both began to feel the consequences of their hard push during the day.. so when a decision point came up, we had to stop and assess. We would either take the long northern route which would promise us at least 3 CPs possibly even 4 or 5… but that would mean a ton of distance and lots of big climbs. We were looking at a 4am cutoff for this section, so the shorter southern route (which promised 2 CPs) was looking like a better option. We didn’t want to leave any CPs out there, but we knew there was absolutely no way we were going to get all the north and south points before the 4am cutoff. So we went the shorter south route with the hopes that we’d arrive to TA very early and get maps with tons of points on day 2 so we could make up some ground.
When we arrived to TA, the news Doug had for us was not good. There would not be much to do in the second day, so the race standings would essentially be decided on day 1. Which meant if we wanted any shot of a top finish, we better go back out and get some more points. The other piece of bad news was that we had misunderstood the rule regarding when these points could be collected. Turns out the south points that we grabbed on our way to TA could have been obtained after leaving this TA for the next section. And sure enough, we’d be riding right back past them.
We had 4 hours until the cutoff, so what could we do? We fueled up and rode back out to get some more points. Everyone had bounced back by this point, so we made pretty efficient work out of the piece we had time to do, and arrived back in TA with time to spare and 3 more points. It wasn’t enough to win because the winning teams were clearing, but it still felt nice to make some good out of a bad situation.
And then more backtracking happened. The ride to the next waypoint labeled on the map involved covering 20 or 30 miles of our previous course in reverse. More mental exhaustion. At the waypoint, things got weird. We had to follow orange flagging on the trails that was to lead us to the next TA. Doug had told us that once the flagging stops, we have to find “the barn.” So I asked him, “what barn? And how will we know how to find it if the flagging stops and we don’t have trail maps?” Then Cryptic Crytzer smiled and walked away. So I figured it must be obvious once we get out there.
It wasn’t. The flagging led us to a trail intersection. Aaron and I wanted to go one way, John wanted to go the other. Whitney just wanted to punch someone in the face. So we picked a direction, and it was wrong. But we happened upon another piece of flagging (unrelated to this race, it turns out) so we continued to try to follow it. This only exacerbated our wrongness. Eventually we figured out that our direction made no sense and we turned around. We made it to the TA with time to spare, and no one got punched in the face.
Then we learned that after our next short foot section, it looked like we were going to have to backtrack again. Back up the trails we came in on. None of us was enthusiastic about this. Which might be the understatement of the century. We got maps for a quick trail loop on foot, and decided to set off and talk about the next section while we jogged.
We finished our trek section without major issue, and decided that this would be a turning point in the race for us. We had about 3 hours to make it to the paddle put-in, and did not want to backtrack over all the ground we came in on. We knew we didn’t have a lead to protect, so it seemed like a good time to take a chance. It could either save us time and energy or cost us the paddle section, but either way was guaranteed to be more fun than more backtracking. So we crossed the road and headed toward the Youghiogheny.
After a frustrating hour trying to find a road down to the river, and more accidental trespassing (luckily more kindhearted Pennsyltuckians forgiving us for our outlandish adventure racing cluelessness), we decided to take another trail that would lead us almost to the river. This meant an insanely steep 200ft bikewhack down into the ravine. Imagine passing bikes down a line of 4 people because the terrain is too steep to walk, all while clinging to the rhododendron branches for dear life… and you’re now picturing 4 adventure racers finally having some serious fun during this race. Getting our bikes down into the ravine was some of the best teamwork I’ve experienced in AR…and calls for another kumbaya moment.
Anyway, while it would have been grand to ford the river and bike the rail trail all the way through Ohiopyle to the paddle put-in.. we were unfortunately on the side known as the “Lower Yough.” You know, where all the extreme white water rafting happens? John was certain we wouldn’t be able to cross the river, so we pushed our bikes along an old trail that paralleled the river until we ended up at Highway 381. You’re thinking, “great news! Hop on the road and pedal!” right? Well no, the highway is off limits. So now we bikewhack next to the highway. We arrived in town having missed the cutoff for the paddle put-in, but were happy we took the chance. It was still way better than backtracking.
Doug told us there were 4 more Foot-O points we could get, so we marked up our maps and went to get dinner. Our race had kind of blown up by that point, so we treated ourselves to a bit of real food. While waiting for our cheese dog and burger, Whitney and I had the pleasure of listening to the young waitress regale us with a disturbingly graphic account of how she had her tonsils removed and now it feels like a volcano is erupting in her head every time she sneezes. Luckily some other customers distracted her, so Whitney and I slunk off to an empty table where we proceeded to fully traumatize nearby diners with our putrid spandexy AR stench. My cheese dog was delicious.
Our last Foot-O section went fine. We ran a bit and walked a bit… but mostly just enjoyed the last few points of the race. We hit the rail trail after another nasty steep bushwhack down a re-entrant (complete with oodles of Devil Plants), and put in a nice team jog to the finish line.
We ended up finishing on an alternate course (due to the fact that we missed the paddle), but we all enjoyed racing together and were glad we came out for this epic beast of an AR that Doug and AAS put on. Kudos to Team AAS for the Coed Elite Division win, and huge kudos to Jim Driscoll who took the overall win as a solo! One word: manimal.